My attending had our team (resident, interns, and I plus spouses and kids) over for dinner at his house. He has five daughters, the middle three of whom are triplets. TRIPLETS! Their children were born so close together that when their youngest daughter was born they had five children under the age of three. I thought his wife had to be a saint to manage all those kids, and when we met her it turns out I wasn’t far off. She was lovely, and their family was so welcoming. Very inspiring to me, who is just in the beginning stages of figuring out my family and professional life.
While we were there, our attending (Dr. A) thanked all of us for all of our work. This is remarkable, because I have never heard an attending acknowledge the fact that residents hit the floor running in the morning and don’t stop until they go to bed. I think this is a measure of Dr. A’s character that he remembers what it was like to be a resident. He went on to say that we took such good care of our patients, even though they weren’t all pretty, and they weren’t all clean. I thought about some of our less fortunate patients, and the fact that many of them are that way because of mental illness, addiction, poverty, and little to no support system. Some of these patients have no one to take care of them at home, and so cycle in and out of the hospital until they qualify for a nursing home. They have no one to provide their most basic physical needs, and I doubt they have no one to provide their emotional needs either. I think that to me, one of my roles as a care-giver in the hospital is to not only make sure my patients are taken care of physically, but to ensure they are treated respectfully, with dignity, and even with love.
Being in the hospital is a humbling and uncomfortable experience. Patients’ bodies are exposed to total strangers on a regular basis. And their lives outside the hospital are examined for clues to their illnesses and their ability to go home safely. It must feel humiliating at times. I try to be mindful of these things in the face of a patient who refuses treatment, or who is rude and disrespectful to me and my colleagues. It can be hard, but I think it’s harder still to be dependent on others for your health. Kindness can be a rare commodity in the hospital, you’re either sick or overworked if you are there for very long. I’m working hard to get into the habit of kindness with my patients, of not judging their social situations, of loving them for their humanity and not hating them for their mistakes. I think it makes a difference to my patients, at least I hope it does. I have so much love in my life that it spills over to the people I take care of. I wish all doctors had enough love in their life that they could spare some for their patients, it might make the hospital a nicer place to be.